Portland, Houston Gear Up for WIN, Grande

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Portland, Ore., and Houston are ready to become the next local jurisdictions to pit Western Integrated Networks against the incumbent cable operator.

On first reading, the Houston City Council last week approved franchises that would permit WIN and Grande Communications to compete with Time Warner Cable for video and Internet subscribers.

In Portland, officials issued Western Integrated a temporary permit that allows it to start building while it finalizes a deal that will result in competition for AT & T Broadband.

George Biggs, spokesman for Houston Councilman Rob Todd, predicted WIN and Grande would get final approval within a month.

"First reading is usually where problems arise," Biggs said. "I don't see why the franchises wouldn't be approved."

Portland franchising director David Olson said a final franchise document was being prepared for the City Council and other members of the Mt. Hood Cable Regulatory Commission.

WIN chairman James Vaughn, an industry veteran who once headed Frontier-Vision Partners L.P., said his new venture has started preliminary construction in jurisdictions where it holds franchises.

Vaughn's firm has already received the go-ahead in San Diego and Sacramento, Calif., as well as San Antonio and Austin, Texas. It has similar deals brewing in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Oakland, Calif., Seattle and Phoenix.

"WIN's technology will ensure the highest quality and reliability by eliminating bottlenecks to the Internet and other public-switched networks," Vaughn said. "Most importantly, WIN's network architecture provides scalable, high bandwidth that will meet the needs brought on by new technologies and services."

Western Integrated spokes-man Bill Mahon said the Houston market is ideal for a cable competitor, because 80 percent of its estimated 4 million residents are within the city limits.

The need for competition in greater Portland is "multiplying daily," said Vaughn.

For the past two years, Portland and AT & T have battled over the city's attempt to mandate that the MSO give independent Internet-service providers access to its cable plant.

Until recently, the city's best chance of introducing competition into the market was WideOpenWest LLC, a Denver-based startup that wants to delay its franchise request because its believes that provisions in its deal would leave it at a competitive disadvantage.

Houston last week became the fourth market to place a proposed WOW franchise on hold, joining Portland, Dallas and 14 Portland suburbs.

Julia McGrath, WOW senior vice president and general manager for Texas, said the company did not have time to review its proposed franchise prior to Monday's Houston council meeting.

"We want to approach this by making sound business decisions," said McGrath, who added that WOW expects its deal will be in place before WIN and Grande are too far ahead in building their networks.

The Dallas City Council is expected to approve a franchise for WIN this week. City staffers, who briefed the council on the company's franchise request last week, have recommended its approval.

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